A few months back, I was taking a lunchtime stroll through the office park where I work. The complex is called “Silver Lake,” a much more evocative name than this collection of warehouses and small bits of office space deserves. But I guess the name “Eighteen-Wheeler Haven” wouldn’t draw as many tenants.
There actually is a “lake” near the back of the park, and I guess it could be considered “silver” as much as any body of water half-covered with algae can be called “silver”. There’s a half-hearted attempt at a fountain installed in the middle of the lake, and a few shapely boulders situated at different points along the banks. With a little imagination, however, and if you squint your eyes enough to render yourself half-blind, it’s a scenic view. Especially compared to the boxy beige-and-green prefab buildings that surround it.
As I rounded the cul-du-sac near one corner of the lake, I spotted a small box turtle walking in the road. I guess, like me, he was taking a break from his workaday routine. I needed to step away for a few minutes from the style-intense Form 10-K annual report I was proofreading, and he needed a respite from turtle duties like swimming, eating bugs and nearly being run over by a ten-ton truck.
My past experience with turtles has generally been positive. When I was a kid, I had several of those tiny ones they used to sell at Walgreen’s that came with a plastic enclosure and tiny fake palm tree. The Yertles — as I named every single one of them — always seemed to get along with me, at least until they were eaten by my dog. I’ve looked at larger turtles and tortoises in various zoos and animal parks over the years, and have always been impressed with their shells and how cool it would be if they were stuck on their backs. I’ve never consumed one in a fancy restaurant, which they should count in my favor.
With such a positive and mutually respectful relationship between us, I thought it would be a nice gesture to pick this turtle out of the dangerous roadway and return him to the grass along the lake. His shell was about the width of my palm, so it wasn’t especially hard or perilous to grasp him by the edge of the carapace, assuming I wouldn’t contract any turtle-borne diseases. As I lifted him from the asphalt, his legs flailed wildly as if to say “ahhh! I’m being kidnapped by an alien”. I walked him the few paces to safety, offering reassuring words I doubted he understood, though I hoped the calming tone of my voice might relax him somewhat. I placed him near the water’s edge, and he scurried away. I did the same, as I was late getting back from my break.
I must say, I felt pretty good about this inter-species act of goodwill. Humans are better known for raping the environment than they are for helping it out of inconvenient situations, and I was proud to put myself forward as an exception to the prevailing wisdom. I could’ve let nature take its course, and left the errant reptile to face whatever fate might have awaited him. But I had been in a pretty good mood, and decided to intervene to do what I could to save one small creature from potential squishing.
As the weather has been warming with the approach of spring, I’ve taken several more walks past the lake in recent days. I’ve noticed that many of these animals have started to emerge from the water onto small rocky outcroppings to bask in the sun. I keep looking for the guy I rescued — not so much to receive a belated thank-you as to simply say “hi” — but frankly I can’t tell one turtle from the next. I know that’s racist, but I can’t.
Rather than greeting me with a friendly wave of the paw (?), the turtles instead don’t seem to like me. I try to get close enough to enjoy the natural beauty of wild animals trying to mend their cold-blooded ways with a session of sun-bathing, but as soon as they see me, they jump off their rock into the safety of the water. It’s like they don’t even remember me.
I’ve tried approaching carefully, so as not to startle them. There’s a line of shrubbery between the parking lot and the water, and I’ve tried ducking low beneath the hedge and emerging slowly to keep from frightening them. They don’t see me at first and for a few moments, I can appreciate their leathery sheen, their graceful craning necks and their overall turtletude. Then, one of them glances off to his left, spies the intruder, sends a body-language message to the others, and they all go diving beneath the surface.
Frankly, it hurts my feelings.
So on Monday of this week, I decided I needed to remind them what a nice guy I was. It was another warm midday, and I had decided to take my Lean Cuisine spaghetti and meat sauce microwaved dinner outside for lunch. I ate most of the solids as I walked down the road toward the lake, but there was a healthy amount of tomato sauce and spiced pepper pieces left over that my fork couldn’t reach. I thought I’d offer it to the turtles.
I placed the black plastic tray on the ground not far from the nearest clump of animals, then stepped away to hide myself behind a large boulder. When I peeked over the edge of the rock to see if they noticed the offering, they sat in the same position as before. I was at least glad I hadn’t frightened them, however I had hoped to see them gathered around the edge of the tray enjoying what for them I imagined was a rare Italian feast. I don’t think it was that they weren’t interested; I just don’t think they saw it. So I whistled softly and pointed toward the dish. One of them looked in my direction, then all of them jumped off the rock and floated away.
I decided to leave the tray where it sat, just in case these or other turtles had a better appetite later in the day. I was a little torn about this, as it could be construed as littering and yet another instance of man’s disregard for the ecosphere. I’ll check back in a few days to see if it’s still there.
Hopefully, after I left, they will have come over and hauled the sumptuous banquet to a safe area under the bushes and enjoyed the closest they’ll ever come to knowing the delights of the Olive Garden. And maybe, once again, the turtles will like me.